Sermon delivered by Howard Baston, pastor of First Baptist Church in Amarillo, T.X., on Apr. 26 2009.
Luke 14: 7-24.
Food should be savored and not gulped down.
Perhaps that’s the most hypocritical statement I have ever said from this pulpit, because, as some of you know, I haven’t yet made the Guinness Book of World Records but I am one of the fastest eaters on planet Earth. Jeff Raines tells of the first meal he and I shared together. It was, of course, at Wendy’s. He said he had no sooner unwrapped his hamburger, arranged his napkin, and had all of his food in order when he looked up and I was absolutely finished with my meal. He said he’d never seen anything like it in his life.
I know a meal is supposed to be relaxing – a time for conversing, a time for good company. But my family approached it much differently. It was as if there was a starting signal. “One, two, three – bang. At the sound of the gun, everybody gobble.” We didn’t talk a lot. We moaned, because our mouths were full. I had a big brother – if you didn’t eat fast and furious you left the table hungry.
The rest of Americans are now catching on to the Batsons fast and furious eating etiquette. We have drive-thru windows where you speak to someone through a microphone on one side of the establishment, drive around to the other side of the establishment, pay your money at the first window, and at the second window they give you a bag of food.
Now, it is very rarely the same bag of food that you ordered – they don’t care at the drive-thru. They realize that by the time you get home you’re not coming back. You’ve been had. You order a grilled chicken sandwich and baked potato only to get home and find that you have a bowl of chili and a salad. Doesn’t matter. You’re going to eat what you get. The lady behind you is going to eat the grilled chicken and the potato. You’re going to eat her bowl of chili and salad, because neither one of you is going to get back in the car and drive three miles to bring back the now cold food and demand to be re-served. They will get you at the drive-thru window every single time.
I’m happy to say that my ghoulish gobbling was not the order of the day in the first century. Eating now and eating then means much more than simply satisfying our appetites. Eating has always been more than just a response to hunger pangs. Eating then, as it is now, was often festive – a celebration. As we’ll see this morning in Luke 14, when Jesus had to pick something to represent the Kingdom of God, it was a banquet, a feast.
Think back. Jesus’ first recorded miracle – every child who attends Sunday School here faithfully can answer this question – was performed at a what? A wedding banquet. The water was transformed into wine. Food in scripture is a symbol of God’s liberal blessing. When Jesus’ wanted to demonstrate God’s compassion for the multitudes, He multiplied bread and fish for them. And food is also in scripture a metaphor for salvation. When Jesus identified with those He came to save, He ate with them. When He presented His body and blood to His disciples, He did so in the form of bread and wine.
There really is a theology of food.
So I need to stop inhaling chicken breasts, and you need to stop zooming through drive-thru windows, for neither of these can compare to a dinner with friends and family who you love, care for, and celebrate life with. As May Drost has observed, “If everything does mean something, the ritual of eating is a reflection of a heavenly eternity.” (Banner, November 5, 2001, Vol. 136, No. 22, p. 20-21)
Interestingly enough, in Luke 14, there is a lot about banquets. A lot about food. A great deal about eating. In fact, it begins in Luke 14:1 when Jesus goes to the house of one of the leaders of the Pharisees on the Sabbath to eat bread. What follows in verses 7 through 24 are three different parables about banquets, about food, about hosts, hostesses, and guests.
I. Luke 14:7-11
They thought they were exceptional, those scribes and Pharisees.
Religious role models.
Paragons of piety.
God’s own Dream Team.
Nothing made them happier than having the place of honor at banquets, the best seats in the synagogues.
They were the height of arrogance. Flying high. Completely out of touch.
And Jesus wanted to bring them down. (www.homileticsonline.com, “The Height of Humility”, 11/2/2008)
On that particular occasion when Jesus is eating, He noticed, as the guests were coming in, they picked out the places of honor at the table. Now, we laugh at this, but I want to give you a homework assignment. Sometime you go to an event – any event – and you watch people with their plate in hand as they turn the corner and have to pick a place to sit. Where you sit means a great deal. Do you sit at the front? Do you sit at the back? Do you sit with the rich? Do you sit with the poor? Do you sit with friends? Do you dine with strangers?
There is a lot of tension, a lot of insecurity, a lot of jockeying for position as people pick their place. In fact, it’s not unusual to hear someone say, “Save me a seat” … because I don’t want to be left to the last. They want to be sure they have a good seat with good friends in a good place.
“Oh, don’t do it that way,” says Jesus in verse 8. “When you are invited by someone to a feast, don’t go to the place of honor, because someone with higher qualifications and social status than you may have been invited for that place, and the host may have to embarrass you and say, ‘Oh, please, may I beg you, please go to the end of the table so that John may sit here.’ Rather,” says Jesus, “if you’ll go to the last place, then when someone who has invited you comes and sees you have put yourself at the humble end of the table, he’ll say to you, ‘Oh my friend, move up higher.’ And then people will see you not as being demoted, but, rather, as being promoted. For (verse 11) if you exalt yourself, you’ll end up humbled. If you go to the head of the table, you’ll be sent back to the end. But if you start out at the end of the table, you’ll be brought up to the head.”
It’s an interesting story that Jesus tells.
What we see in this first story about banquets is that life is lived better when we truly humble ourselves rather than when we try to promote ourselves.
Jesus, just watching how people pick the pecking order at the picnic, made great observations about their character.
Plutarch once observed that “it is in the small, apparently trivial act that character is most accurately revealed.” How true.
It is in the frequent and familiar events of life that we discover who we really are. More than just eating etiquette is involved in this story. The lesson is about the human ego. In fact, in life I have learned that the most fun is had not at the head table but at the children’s table. Not in the dining room where the good china is used and you have to mind your manners. Rather, the most fun is had sitting at the card table in the sun room or den, sitting in the folding chairs, not the ones with Queen Anne legs. That’s where people really relax and have fun. That’s where – around the children – one doesn’t have to be pretentious or force conversation, but, rather, you can giggle about green peas, put your elbows on the table, and actually use the wrong fork and get away with it.
The real punch of the parable comes in verse 11. “Everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, and he who humbles himself shall be exalted.”
Often other people will help keep us humble. I received this e-mail from Adam Grubb, one of our associate student ministers. I just want to show it to you. (Put up Adam’s e-mail on the big screen)
“We were a Chic-Fil-A and we walked by this picture and Logan (2 years old) said, ‘Look, Howie.’ LOL”
(Show picture of the founder of Chic-Fil-A)
My response to Adam (show e-mail) was, “Please go by Tom’s office and pick up your final check. Or promise me you’ll get that boy to an oculist at once!”
Going through life as your own publicity agent is a terrible way to live. How many of you like to be around someone who is giving you their vita, their resume the whole time they are holding a conversation with you? You know, someone who is letting you know about their last great investment, their last tremendous accomplishment. Or, they may be a little more sophisticated and brag on their children and grandchildren. That’s a slightly different way of saying, “Look at the genius of my gene pool.”
An interesting dichotomy is that, often, the higher people rise, the more they have accomplished, the higher the humility index. Those who achieve the most brag the least, and the more secure they are in themselves, the more humble they are. (www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newLDR/69.htm, Bruna Martinuzzi, “Humility – The Most Beautiful Word in the English Language”)
II. Luke 14:12-15
Relax in life. Sit at the last table. Don’t brag. People like to be friends with those are truly, truly humble. We all need to hear this lesson.
There is a second story about a banquet. It concerns the invitation list. Ever been to a banquet where you had to show your invitation to get in? I have. The invitation acts something like a ticket.
You need to redo your invitation list, Jesus says. “Don’t invite your friends, your family. Don’t invite your rich neighbors. If you do, they’ll just invite you back and repay you. Quid pro quo. Tit for tat. You gave them a meal. They give you one.”
Robby and I have a practice that really makes no sense. We go out to eat lunch together and we take turns picking up the tab. Now the truth of the matter is, after Robby picks up the tab I say, “Thank you, Robby.” Then after I pick up the tab he says, “Thank you, Pastor.” That’s really a foolish thanks because all it means is that next time I’m paying or next time he’s paying. We’re not really giving each other anything. I do order a little bit bigger when I know it’s his turn to pay though. Bring on the queso, not just the picante, when it’s Robby’s turn to pick up the check. I just count on the fact that he might not be smart enough to pick up on that pattern. Skip the $4 piece of coconut cream pie unless Barrett is buying. Then I’m in the mood for a delicious dessert. (I think I just blew it by telling that this morning.)
Jesus says, “Take those folks off the list. Let me give you a list. Invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.”
Another mark of a [person] who practices humility is his or her treatment of others. Such [people] treat everyone with respect regardless of position. Years ago, I came across this reference: the sign of a gentleman is how he treats those who can be of absolutely no use to him. (www.mindtools.com, Martinuzzi)
Skip down to the end of verse 21. It’s the same list – the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame. The same set of four.
In Mary’s Song in Luke 1:46-56, we see that these are kingdom people – the humble folk. It is the hungry he fills with good things, and the rich he sends away empty-handed in Mary’s Song.
In Luke 4:18, in Jesus’ inaugural sermon, He says He is here to preach the gospel to the poor, to proclaim freedom to the captives, to give sight to the blind, to set free those who are downtrodden. It’s a similar list. It’s the Kingdom-kind of people list that we find in Luke 14. And Jesus says these are the people to invite to your party.
You might say I’m nitpicking, but He didn’t say drop them off a casserole. He says, “Sit down at the table together.” When you sit down together with someone, an unlikely person, it’s a sign of acceptance. Recognizing one another as equals. Cementing the fellowship. Breaking the bread together. You see, in the Christian community no one is a “project.” (Fred Craddock, Luke [Interpretation series], p. 178) Everyone is equal.
Folks, this is serious business. Stop having your agenda lunches and have a no-agenda lunch – a no strings attached lunch. When someone takes you out to eat, the first thing you want to know is, “What are they trying to sell me? What do they want from me?”
Don’t host in order to create a debt. In the real parable, God is the host and who can possibly repay God? The banquet, as we shall see, is entrance into the Kingdom of God.
I heard a child say that he was friendly to so-and-so because so-and-so was popular. Wow! Even in elementary school. No, maybe especially in elementary school. Perhaps even worse in high school – this borrowing and bartering of favors and attention and invites and exclusions in order to climb the social ladder. Inviting just the right person to a party and leaving just the right people out in order to strive for success in this society. It starts in grade school.
I am less and less interested in going to parties where everyone is not invited. It seems to me that some social and civic organizations are built on the principle of inviting some and excluding others. And it devastates people when they are blackballed. Devastates them. And I have no interest in being part of something that devastates other people.
III. Luke 14:16-24
The last story about a banquet comes after one of the folks at the table with Jesus heard the parable and said, “Blessed is everyone who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God!” How shocked he must have been by the final parable Jesus told. When Jesus tells it, he realizes that neither he nor anyone from his circle of friends is going to be in the Messianic banquet.
In this last story, beginning in verse 16, a certain man who represents God is giving a big dinner. He invites a lot of people. He sent his slave to say to those invited, “ ‘Come, for everything is ready now.’ But they all began to make excuses. The first one said, ‘I bought a piece of land, and I need to go out and look at it; please consider me excused.’ Another one said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please consider me excused.’ And another one said, ‘I have married a wife, and for that reason I cannot come.’ The slave went back and reported to his master. Then the head of the household became angry and said to his slave, ‘Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the city and bring in here the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ (Sound familiar?) ‘Well,’ said the slave, ‘I’ve invited all those folks and there is still room around the table.’ ‘Go out again,’ he said, ‘and compel them to come in, that my house will be full. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste of my dinner.’”
This is, indeed, a story about the Kingdom of God. The big dinner here is making it into the kingdom. Those who are invited have a great many excuses. I don’t agree with the commentators who say these aren’t good excuses. They really are good excuses. They are not talking about the alarm clocks that didn’t go off or the road work that made them delayed. Rather, they are valid excuses. It’s economic pressures for the first two – they are cutting deals; they don’t have time.
The third one has a recent wedding. In fact, marriage in Deuteronomy 20:7 and 24:5 exempted folks from even military duty in Israel. So they have good excuses. Don’t make these trite excuses. Don’t ruin the parable by saying they didn’t have a good enough excuse. They had good excuses.
Despite the fact their excuses are well argued and well offered, God’s banquet, God’s priority over our lives, is not a priority over our trivial or our worst, but over our best agendas. Those who come into the Kingdom of God, those who have a seat at the great table, don’t do so because there is nothing else to do.
You are here this morning not because you don’t have something else to do on Sunday with your time – there are a million things you could be doing. But you choose this – you choose the Kingdom business, you choose the banquet because it is the best among many attractive alternatives.
When the guests won’t show at the banquet, go out in the streets and invite the poor and the crippled and the blind and the lame. The meaning behind this is that the Pharisees and religious elite have rejected the Messiah. They have rejected Jesus and His teachings, so they’ve not come to His banquet. That’s funny. They are the very ones He is eating with in this chapter. But go out in the streets and get the distant of Israel, not the religious elite. And even go again, he says, when there is still room at the table and invite other guests. It’s Gentiles, not Israelites, who are now coming to the great Messiah’s banquet.
When those who would seem most likely to respond to God’s call do not, God finds others. God’s will is not foiled by the rejection of human beings. The places at the banquet will be filled with others.
Will you have a place? Or will you have an excuse?
A preacher tells a story about pastoring in Tennessee. There was a little girl about seven years old who came to church regularly for Sunday School. Sometimes her parents let her stay for the worship service, but they didn’t come. They had a circular drive at that church. It was built for people who let their children out then drove off. The mom and dad had moved there from New Jersey with the new chemical plant. The dad was upwardly mobile. They both were ambitious. They didn’t come to church. There didn’t seem to be any need for that.
But on Saturday nights, the whole town knew of their parties. They gave parties, not for entertainment, but as a part of their social climbing. That determined who was invited – you know, the right people, the one just above, and finally on up to the boss. Those parties were full of drinking and wild and vulgar things. Everybody knew. Then there was that beautiful little girl in church every Sunday.
One Sunday morning the preacher said he looked out and she was there. He thought, “Well, she’s here with her friends,” but it was her mom and dad. After the close of the service, it was the custom at that church to have an invitation to discipleship, like we do here. Mr. and Mrs. Mom and Dad came to the front, and they confessed faith in Christ. “Afterward,” the preacher said, “I asked them what prompted this.”
“Well, you know about our parties.”
“Yes,” said the preacher, “I’ve heard about your parties.”
They said, “Well, we had one last night and it got a little loud and it got a little rough. There was too much drinking. We waked our daughter, and she came downstairs to about the third step. She saw that we were eating and drinking and she said, ‘Oh, can I say the blessing? God is great. God is good. Let us thank Him for our food. Good night, everybody.’ She went upstairs. ‘Oh my land, it’s time to go.’ ‘We’ve stayed away too long.’ Within two minutes, the room was empty.”
Mr. and Mrs. Mom and Dad began cleaning up, picking up crumpled napkins and wasted and spilled peanuts, half sandwiches, and taking empty glasses on trays to the kitchen. And with two trays, he and she met on either side of the sink, they look at each other, and he expressed what both were thinking: “Where do we think we’re going?” The moment of truth. (Fred Craddock, Craddock Stories, p. 23)
Banquets and invitation lists.
Seats of honor and excuses.
God has invited you to His banquet. Whom have you invited to yours?